Wolf orders DOC to temporarily release inmates under emergency program


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HARRISBURG, DAUPHIN COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) Friday, Governor Tom Wolf ordered the Department of Corrections to establish a “Temporary Program to Reprieve Sentences of Incarceration” to transfer qualifying inmates to home confinement or community corrections facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This directive is being issued under the authority granted to Wolf by the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Emergency Management Services Code.

“We can reduce our non-violent prison population and leave fewer inmates at risk for contracting COVID-19 while maintaining public safety with this program,” Gov. Wolf said. “I am pleased to direct the Department of Corrections to begin the process to release vulnerable and non-violent inmates at or nearing their release dates in an organized way that maintain supervision post-release and ensures home and health care plans are in place for all reentrants.”

The program only applies to state prison inmates who have been identified as non-violent and would otherwise would be eligible for release within the next 9 months and includes those who are considered at high risk for complications of coronavirus and are within 12 months of their release.

“Just as everyone in the community is dealing with COVID-19, the state prison system is doing the same,” Corrections Sec. John Wetzel said. “We must reduce our inmate population to be able to manage this virus. Without this temporary program, we are risking the health, and potentially lives, of employees and inmates. We can safely release individuals to the community to reduce their vulnerability and allow the department to successfully manage COVID-19.

“Without any current legislation, we are moving forward with the understanding that future legislation could further advance these efforts.”

As of Friday morning there are 11 COVID-19 cases at one Pirson, SCI Phoenix in Montgomery County.

According to the release, there are 1,500 to 1,800 inmates eligible for the program, but that number could change.

The releases could begin as early as Tuesday, April 14.

The release concludes, “While on temporary reprieve, individuals will be monitored similarly to parolees and will be supervised by parole agents. Upon expiration of the order, individuals would be returned to prison to complete any remaining portion of their sentences.”

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